The Jewish Credo – Rav David Milston
“Every man shall take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ houses, one lamb for each household. And if the household is too small for one lamb, then he and his neighbor near his house shall take one according to the number of souls. You shall make your count for the lamb according to every man’s eating. Your lamb shall be complete, without blemish, a male in its first year; you may take it from the sheep or the goats.”
The Korban Pesach (Paschal Lamb) is no ordinary Korban.
As the Mishna and the Rambam point out, Korban Pesach and Brit Mila are the only two positive commandments in the entire Torah that invoke the penalty of “Karet” if unfulfilled.
We can therefore presume this particular sacrifice contains a fundamental Jewish message.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains the centrality of Korban Pesach through the medium of the verses quoted above. If we adopt and adapt his interpretations we will discover that this sacrifice represents the ultimate Jewish credo:
“Every man shall take…”
This is the first prerequisite to shaping the character of the new nation – each and every person. The foundation of God’s nation rests on the personality of every individual and not in the hands of its leaders. Even if Bnei Yisrael are as numerous “as the sand on the shore,” each individual has a fully representative role. No one is dispensable. This is a crucial message as the masses leave their slavery behind.
Slaves have no self-esteem; they are just numbers, cogs in a huge working machine. From now on, every one counts. Every single person is significant. The Almighty created each and every one of us and we are all essential to furthering the world’s purpose.
The Korban Pesach – through which we declared our independence from Egyptian slavery – was both a communal and an individual sacrifice. Unlike most of the other sacrifices, it was not performed by national representatives but rather by each individual Jew. And it was carried out together, by each member of the nation, at the same time and in the same way.
So as we begin our voyage to nationhood, the opening message is strong and clear. We are all individuals, but we are part of Am Yisrael too. As Hillel says, “If I am not for myself then who am I, but if I am only for myself then what am I?”
The first thing the Almighty restores to His newly independent people is the lamb that willingly follows its shepherd. We need to acquire obedience to our true Shepherd, the Holy One Blessed be He.
Combining this second characteristic with the first, we become conscious of our equal worth and dignity whilst simultaneously being subordinate to the Almighty. “Every man” is also “a lamb.”
We embark on a shaky tightrope walk as we try to find the balance between self-esteem and humility. Anarchy is the obvious danger after freeing so many people into the wilderness after two centuries of oppression – from no independence to too much independence.
We need to know our intrinsic value but if we become too full of ourselves we are likely to inflate our importance and abuse others. We must constantly remember we are only “in God’s image.” We are not His equal.
“…according to their fathers’ houses, one lamb for each household”
Each person – with complete self-reliance and in total compliance with God’s will – thinks back to his parental home and forward to his own household. The cornerstone of living Judaism is to bring the tradition of yesteryear into the world of today. Is that not a recurring theme throughout the evening? We look back to the past, not with romantic nostalgia but with a vision for the future – “as if we had left Egypttoday.”
The Mishna informs us that before starting the daily Avodah in the Mikdash in Yerushalayim, we would look to Hebron to see whether the sun had risen. Hidden in this apparently technical directive is the theme we are establishing here. If we are to serve God today, we do so with a glance to the past. Hebron signifies our roots whilst Yerushalayim is our present and our future.
To inherit a tradition and build a home is a benchmark of a Jew’s happiness and vocation on earth. The fate of the Jew is decided neither in the corridors of power nor on the battlefield. Not in business, academia or houses of worship. It is sealed in one place only – the Jewish home.
Although we are compared to lambs, we must also be shepherds in our Jewish homes. Whether our function is as father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister, the success of our “fathers’ houses” depends on each of us fulfilling a leading and supportive role.
We find this theme alluded to in Hilchot Chanukah. The Talmud tells us that if one only had sufficient money for either Shabbat candles or Chanukah candles, the former takes precedence. Why?
Lighting in the house on Shabbat is an expression of Shalom Bayitwhilst lighting the Chanukiah is an expression of a national miracle.Chazal emphasize that peace in the home is more important than any other educational theme.
As our verses indicate, the “household” is the foundation of Judaism. There can be no miracles, no Mikdash and indeed no redemption if there is no Shalom Bayit.
“…then he and his neighbor”
If the lamb exceeds the needs of a small family circle, they must approach their neighbors. Two houses become one, families join together and society is created.
This sharing is not a result of want or need for help but rather a direct consequence of abundance. One family’s surplus triggers its relationship with another. Giving is motivated by duty, not pity. What a glorious principle! According to God’s constitution, the wealthy man must ensure his surplus is put to proper use – the promotion of human life and welfare.
Having defined the Jew as a combination of “every man” and “lamb”; having emphasized the importance of the past and the centrality of family, we are now taught how to run our society. No obligations to live a dog-eat-dog reality, no orders to establish a communist administration… we are told to care for our familial needs and then go in active search of our neighbors. In an idyllic society, perhaps it is the rich who should be knocking on the doors of the poor?
“Your lamb shall be complete, without blemish”
One cannot be “half a lamb” before the Almighty. If our belief is total, our devotion must be total. Of course it is near impossible to be perfect in every area of halacha, but at least that should be our aspiration. We must not accept our failings as lost causes but constantly strive to better ourselves and move forwards in our Avodat Hashem.
As we enter our long-term covenant with God, we declare our ideal – an unblemished lamb, an all-encompassing life of servitude to the Almighty. Nothing without God and everything with God. To be “complete” in our beliefs and actions.
“…in its first year”
We conclude with yet another fundamental Jewish creed. We must endeavor to retain our childlike and youthful qualities. Our enthusiasm, thirst for knowledge, vitality and vigor must never wane. Our service of the Almighty must be constant but never routine. Doing a mitzvah must excite us, inspire us and engage us in the same way that Facebook, popular music and food mesmerize our teenagers.
It takes work and effort but redemption is possible.
And so, when we bring our Paschal Lamb on this evening of independence it is essentially the groundbreaking ceremony for theUniversity of Judaism. We are celebrating our freedom as individuals, our subservience to God, the fundamentals of family and society – all merging together to contribute to an ideal, wholesome balance of body and soul enriched with eternal youthfulness!